Leaving as Masters of Their Domain
by Gerry Brown
I can't get past the money. $5 million an episode? Twenty-two episodes a year? Can that be true? Jerry was offered that tidy sum to carry on with the show for a tenth season. But after all the money and all the awards, he decided he wanted to get out on top, before the inevitable ratings slide that all older shows experience eventually. Must be nice to be able to politely decline a guaranteed $110 million.
NBC's making sure to cash in on the moment. The network is getting $1.7 million for a 30-second ad. That's a lot more than it costs for an ad during the Super Bowl, traditionally the most important four hours of the year for TV advertisers. Mostly because the Super Bowl routinely draws audiences in excess of 40 million.
All this for a show that was supposed to be about nothing but was really about the comic misadventures of four intensely neurotic New Yorkers. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
How did this show get to be so big? Easy, it's damn funny. Just like TV's original sitcom, I Love Lucy, down the line from the Honeymooners, to Dick Van Dyke, to All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, M*A*S*H, Cosby and Cheers, Seinfeld works so well because its makes almost everyone laugh. Also, like all good shows, it adds plenty to the water-cooler vernacular.
A half-hour Seinfeld script often approaches 70 pages, about 20 pages longer than the normal hour-long show. Expect the final episode, which will run over an hour to be triple that. Each episode is packed with dialogue and action, a long list of very short scenes. Many times the show will actually run over the 22 minutes alotted for the 30 minute slot (remember the ads) and NBC permits it, taking the time from other programs.
Will Seinfeld's finale break M*A*S*H's record as the single most-watched television program in history? Probably not. Not because Seinfeld is any less loved than M*A*S*H was, but because the explosion of cable TV and home video has splintered the audience since 1983 when M*A*S*H signed off.
Fans of the show can take comfort in knowing that reruns will air for years and years (as will the cast, who get a piece of the syndication money). So don't panic that Thursday night you'll be seeing the last wacky Kramer entrance or Jerry's final bowl of cereal. Panic because our children's children will someday be asking us if we're "Master of Our Domain."
—Gerry Brown is an editor at Information Please.